Now that the rains have started and our garden watering chores are lessening, perhaps we could all relax a bit by spending more time watching, listening to, and enjoying our gardens.
Let’s start at the ground level with the soil. Soil has been around for hundreds of millions of years. It has figured out how best to survive all the elements contributing to its making. We can lightly loosen the soil and remove those plants that are unwanted, some we call weeds. This way we leave the soil with its multitudes of microbes, fungi, and insects intact. Happy soil makes for happy plant roots, better able to take up nutrients, fight off pests and diseases and withstand drought. Over time you will see that treating your soil with care will lead to fewer weeds.
How do we think of weeds? Usually we immediately move to snatch the weeds from the soil, thinking they are not welcome. But weeds can act as deterrents to erosion. When the sun bakes the soil or the wind blows away the top level or the rain washes away exposed soil, the soil is weakened. Remember that all those millions of years of time, experience and evolution have guided our soil to a point of self-reliance. When we constantly disturb this balanced ecosystem by digging it up and disturbing the soil, more light enters the soil. The soil uses its weed seed bank to protect itself by allowing the weeds to grow and coat the exposed soil.
At the Chelsea Flower Show weeds are now being renamed “hero plants.” For example, when you see dandelions, they are letting you know your soil is a little compact, low on surface nutrients, particularly calcium and potassium. Nettles tell you there is too much surface nitrogen.
One theory states that a garden that is living and dying and thriving is full of beings, not just pests or diseases. These beings naturally exist and survive in balance with the whole ecosystem.
If you don’t want to spend all summer watering excessively, try breeding a plant that doesn’t need it, such as a leafy green. If you have poor soil, try a potato variety that loves poor soil.
Perhaps by shifting our perspective on how a garden is tended, and observing and learning how a garden naturally evolves, we will see that nature in our gardens has a way of helping more than causing problems.
What to plant in July
It’s wet and rainy, in fact too wet for some things to be really happy. Daylilies are still blooming, as are tigridias. Let your geraniums dry out between waterings, if possible, and herbs, too. At the viveros, you will find dahlias, gazanias, larkspur, lobelia and monarda. You may have to protect some things from too much water, particularly new seedlings in flower and vegetable gardens. And it’s still quite hot. Keep up with the garden pests and beware of diseases like powdery mildew. Some flower seeds to think about planting are asters, balloon flower, cone flower, lobelia and freesia. You can still plant Swiss chard, peppers, eggplant, leeks and okra. Container gardening gives you an opportunity to add more interest to your patios and terraces and also to move things out of heavy rains and hot sun. With the heavy rains, fertilizers leach out of the soil very quickly. Compost helps.
What to do in the garden in July
Summer’s heat is upon us, and we’re harvesting crops. Fall’s cool weather is just around the corner and we should begin planning the cool weather garden.
Do your transplanting in the late afternoon or evening so plants have the whole night to begin to recover before they’re hit with a full day of sun and heat. Water the transplants well and provide shade from the intense midday sun. Water enough to keep soil around transplants moist for at least a month until they’re well-established. Mulch transplants to lessen evaporation so your irrigation water lasts longer.
Harvest beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes at least every other day to encourage further production. If too many fruits are allowed to remain on the plant, the hormones will change so there will be fewer new blossoms to set new fruit.
Pinch back herbs to encourage branching, and use the clippings either fresh or dry. Their flavor is at its peak just before they flower. Harvest them early in the morning before the day becomes warm and the fragrant oils dissipate.
To encourage beneficial insects to populate your garden, provide them with their chosen foods and habitats. Many weeds are food sources for two of the most important orders of beneficial insects, wasps and flies. Mustard flowers attract lacewings (for aphids) and parasitic wasps. These do not bother people or pets. Planting rows of these plants in your garden can support a large beneficial insect population.
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